Birks’ latest store concept aims to remove the intimidation from the traditional fine jewelry shopping experience and court a new generation of customers along the way.
The veteran Montreal-based jeweller, which began adding more contemporary and luxury merchandise to its stores three years ago, relocated its boutique in Toronto’s Yorkdale shopping centre in October with some key differences to its design.
The store eschews the classic jewelry counter that typically hugs the perimeter of a store in a U-shape or L-shape for a less formal style with communal tables, “a more open space, with little islands,” explains Jean-Christophe Bédos, chief executive officer of Birks Group Inc.
“Traditionally, jewellers have stores that are very segmented, with sales professionals behind the counters acting almost like an authority in their trade. What we have learned from other retailers such as Apple, which has done a fantastic job in bricks and mortar retail, is that it is stronger to build a relationship between a customer and a sales professional when both are standing side-by-side rather than across the counter from one another.”
Similarly, the section for engagement rings and wedding jewelry has been reconfigured into what Bédos calls the “bridal bar,” where customers can stand or sit at bar stools. “This creates a more relaxed atmosphere, less formal. You can have different couples at the bar — it is long enough for discretion between people but also there is a sense of community.”
Birks’ move comes as the fine jewelry business weathers a tougher market, one beset with price-focused competitors. Industry sales rose just 1.5 per cent at stores selling jewelry, luggage and leather goods in the year period ended October 2016, according to Statistics Canada, below the 3.8 per cent growth rate of the broader retail sector.
For the six-month period ended Sept. 24, Birks reported its sales fell three per cent to US$129.7 million, compared with US$134 million in the same period a year earlier. The drag was completely due to weakness in the Canadian business — Birks operates 26 outlets under the Birks banner in Canada and 17 Mayors jewellery stores in the southeastern U.S. — with same-store sales falling 11 per cent in Canada on a constant exchange rate basis and rising six per cent in the U.S. Overall same-store sales fell two per cent. The company said its sales in the period were dragged down particularly in western Canada by lower oil prices and the fires in Fort McMurray, Alta.
It is stronger to build a relationship between a customer and a sales professional when both are standing side-by-side rather than across the counter from one another
That compared with same-store store sales growth in the prior fiscal year ended March 26, when sales rose 3 per cent.
“The market for jewelry is not easy to read at the moment,” Bédos said. “We are enjoying growth with our Birks brand, but realize that the market is increasingly driven by price, and we are very happy that we launched collections that are more affordable. There is pressure from consumers to have higher value for less money. We see that trend in the bridal business and in fine jewelry.”
The company is further expanding its business through a new wholesale strategy, opening shop-in-shops for the Birks brand inside other retailers. Thus far it has opened inside stores in London and Windsor in Ontario and in Kamloops, B.C.
Read Also: Skittles’ Holiday Pawn Shop reopens
Bédos said Birks is looking to appeal in part to younger consumers with its new store design, a factor Jean-Pierre Lacroix sees reflected in current demographic trends.
“They are being very smart, because that is how you sell jewelry to millennials,” said the president of Toronto-based retail design firm Shikatani Lacroix. “They like to shop in groups, with friends.”
Ethnographic research of sales behaviour shows the service counter is a barrier for great customer service, Lacroix added. “The staff typically hide behind the counter, so unless a customer walks up to the counter there is no engagement. It is a behaviour that is not conducive to sales.” Lacroix said retailers who take out their counters often perform best if they retrain staff to interact with their customers in the new format. “The person needs to be outgoing, and work within the new sales choreography.”
Source: Financial Post